The Art of Time (Part 1)
From the wrist to the walls, we explore some horology-inspired art that is as diverse and exciting as the watches themselves
Comparing fine watches to fine art isn't a new observation. For generations it's been a well-worn one-liner trotted out by industry executives and passionate collectors. A much more interesting discussion is the way watches and art inspire each other, and today we're going to look specifically at the growing number of artists who find inspiration in the world of horology.
A quick flick through the relevant hashtags on Instagram will reveal a cavalcade of creations; from large, impeccably detailed pop-art inspired creations from artists like Nicholas Star, Eerune's vintage poster art with a modern twist and the charming (but not proportionally accurate) sketches of Bad Art Nice Watch.
Paper watch designer Gabriel Lau takes this high/low concept even further, crafting some of the world’s most desirable objects out of roughly painted corrugated cardboard, complete with crudely painted dial. While the savoir faire might not be up to Swiss standards, the overall effect of Lau's work is utterly charming.
Already you can see that artists who deal with watches as subject matter are as varied as the watches that inspire them. Regardless of the medium and the style, there are some astounding artists creating with everything from pencils to tiny props. We found out what makes them tick.
Time, in its more abstract forms, plays an important role in the sculptural forms of French-born architect-turned-artist Quentin Carnaille. "Time transforms everything. Time is the very expression of life in perpetual movement, change, evolution, transformation. It is a centre of unlimited artistic inspiration that I never stop exploring through my works". For Carnaille, the connection to watches clicked when he discovered the beauty of a mechanical calibre. "These movements were beautiful, even though they were not made for aesthetics, but rather to respond to a technical constraint to tell the time precisely and reliably." These calibres, removed from their original context, and magnetically attached to steel forms, are transformed by Carnaille into serene forms inspired by geometry, astronomy and the human form.
Robbie Jones/Tiny Ass Props
Robbie Jones — like Quentin — makes sculptural forms inspired by watches. What sets Jones' work apart though, is the scale. As the Instagram handle suggests, Jones' work is very, very small. Jones has a professional background in theatrical props and experience in scale model making. "I started collecting 1:6 figures back in 2008; a few years later I started making 1:6 props to fulfil some missing accessories for my collection. They turned out pretty good, so I decided to offer them for sale to the collecting community. They caught on, and I've been doing it ever since. Watches were being overlooked or produced in a simple way by figure manufacturers. So I started offering my own versions." So if you've ever wanted a minuscule version of James Bond's Omega (complete with lume), or a tiny Nautilus, Jones is your guy. The craft involved in these tiny replicas is akin to the complexity of the real deal. "I use many tricks. Some are hand fabricated.
Some use 3D modelling and printing. I use inkjet printers and hand painting. I use a laser for etching and cutting. To be honest, I use whatever tools and techniques that will best translate the design.
Technology is useful because I produce in an edition, each design has to be replicated. It also helps keep the time commitment low so I can keep my prices reasonable." For Jones, all that hard work under high magnification has resulted in a love of watches on a wearable scale: "
I've definitely developed an interest in watches since I started making miniature versions. They're a beautiful mixture of art and engineering – mechanical watches especially. How they almost have a life of their own and a ticking heartbeat. The quest for precision speaks to my pursuit of accuracy in miniature."
Another artist pursuing perfection in inaccurate, artistic representation is Canadian artist Julie Kraulis. A professionally trained illustrator, Kraulis' hyper-realistic watch portraits have been commissioned by watch brands, auction houses, editorial publications and, of course, collectors. Kraulis is quick to point out that creating work like this requires commitment. "Each drawing takes approximately 250-450 hours, depending on the level of difficulty and intricacy. But the process involves more than just putting pencil to paper. In the preliminary stages, I glean as much information I can about a watch through research and conversation. All of these details roll around and eventually distill into ideas. The collection is rendered in a hyper-realistic approach, and I weave in thematic, historical, and narrative elements working with clients to choose the significant details to highlight."
These details might include a diver detail on a dive watch or lunar elements on a Speedmaster. It's these details that take Kraulis' work a step beyond. "From the beginning, I knew I wanted to go beyond just a hyper-realistic approach. I wanted to capture these iconic timepieces with a different perspective, adding layers. These added elements make the work unique and visually interesting, adding an extra challenge for me. I love the challenge of figuring out something I've not yet done. The level of sustained detail can be intense, especially for something like a meteorite dial or an intricate movement. Texture is one of the most difficult aspects. A meteorite dial, carbon fiber, distressed leather. As is often the case, simple is the most difficult."
And as you might expect from someone who spends thousands of hours staring at watches, the artistic passion crosses over into the real world. "I have a special affinity for vintage timepieces – icons and the lesser-known. I love their soul and the secrets they possess. I'm taking my time figuring out what to collect and kicked things off with a Lange 1. I've got a small list that I continue to add to as I explore and discover new ones."
Alex Eisenzammer/The Watchoniste
For Alex Eisenzammer from Watchoniste, it was a passion for watches that led to the artistic expression. "I wanted to make a portrait of one of my first Omega, and I thought it would be cooler and nicer to hang on my wall than a simple picture. Then watch collector friends saw and asked me to create art for them too." For Eisenzammer, the appeal of watches as artistic objects is obvious. "Proportions, case design, dial materials, there is so much to think of, and when you find a piece that's spot on, it's very often a combination of these three factors. For example, I've been into Cartier lately, like many of us. These watches already look like abstract art, and they're definitely a breath of fresh air in the watch world."
Liam/Art of Horology
Liam is one half of horological poster makers Art of Horology, who, along with his wife Clare has his eyes on the future of watch art. "We started the business in 2016, and I simply drew what appealed to me, the watches I wanted. We've learned that our most successful pieces are the most iconic watches; the Speedmaster poster we produce is still our most popular despite being incredibly minimal compared to some of our other pieces. Monochrome work does well because it can be displayed anywhere and won't clash with the decor." Hanging space isn't a concern with NFTs, a bold new frontier that Liam is exploring. "The NFT market is a bit of fun for us. It allows us to go bold and design things we would necessarily release in physical format as we're talking to a different audience."
The rich and meticulous illustrations of Hong Kong-British Ben Li started — as so many creative projects did — during lockdown. Li quickly found that following the the balance of harmony in a well-designed watch was a calming, and almost zen-like experience. This calm creativity led to some truly stunning works, notably his series of IWC illustrations.
How Li can capture the shimmer of a Le Petit Prince dial with a marker is nothing short of marvellous, but this shimmer was not the biggest challenge, as Li told IWC, “The Perpetual Calendar models have been the most challenging. They have a unique character and silhouette to them that I hadn’t drawn before, so it was quite new to me, especially the amount of details and textures in the dial.” And if you think that’s impressive, head over to his Instagram to see just what he can do with a skeletonised dial.
As we've seen, artists creating horological art have no single point of view. Some are looking to capture our relationship with time, others explore the intersection of watches and pop culture, while some seem content to share their passion for horology in a visual way. One thing is sure, the art that surrounds watches is as diverse and exciting as the watches themselves.